Estimated reading time: 4-5 minutes
SANDY – Although colon cancer is the third most common form of cancer and the second leading cause of death from cancer, it is one of the most preventable forms of the disease.
Intermountain Health will be focusing on colon cancer throughout March, bringing a giant inflatable colon to many of its facilities to educate staff, patients and the public about the importance of colonoscopies.
The inflatable colon is 12 feet long and weighs 113 pounds. Monday was his 10th ward at Alta View Hospital and the colon is being moved to various locations in Utah and Idaho as part of Intermountain’s awareness campaign. It shows parts of a healthy colon, polyps or bumps on the colon, malignant polyps that look more vascular and red, cancer cells, advanced cancer cells, and Crohn’s disease.
Affectionately named “Collin the Colon,” the massive inflatable boat is on loan from Boston Scientific, a medical equipment manufacturer.
dr Austin Cannon, a colon and rectal surgeon at Intermountain Medical Center, said his patients don’t always have a history of colon cancer in their families and are healthy — so they don’t expect problems to be found. As long as the cancer is detected early, it is very treatable.
Colonoscopies can be portrayed as “a terrible ordeal,” but Cannon said it’s important to normalize the conversation about colonoscopies.
“Colon cancer can happen to anyone, and it’s important to get checked out,” he said.
Cannon said he encourages patients to come for colonoscopies more often and to tell family members at higher risk of colon cancer to get colonoscopies as well. For anyone with a first-degree relative with colon cancer, Cannon said, a colonoscopy is the only test they should use because it better identifies polyps, which can often be removed right away, reducing the risk of colon cancer.
Nickole Gardner, chief nurse in Alta View Hospital’s endoscopy unit, said she hopes people will look for signs of colon cancer and get regular and timely colonoscopies — at age 45 or earlier for people with a family history of colon cancer .
She said health experts would prefer to find cancer at the polyp stage, but it takes a colonoscopy to determine if it’s present. The time it takes for polyps to develop into cancer is different for everyone, so the next appointment after a person’s first colonoscopy will be different.
The doctor-recommended age for a first colonoscopy was recently changed from 50 to 45. Gardner said doctors are finding colon cancer in younger patients and estimate that the average age range for diagnosis before 2030 will be even lower.
“We’re finding that more and more (younger people) are getting colon cancer, so come in, be sure to get checked out,” she said.
Gardner said some people are reluctant to come in because preparing for the procedure isn’t ideal for most people, and the idea of being euthanized and having the procedure scares some, too. However, she urges people not to ignore signs and symptoms such as rectal bleeding, changes in bowel habits, abdominal pain and unintentional weight loss.
Lifestyle choices can also help reduce your risk of colon cancer, she said, including not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise.
With the recommended screening age being lowered and many procedures being delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are more people than ever who should have a colonoscopy. Intermountain is working to be prepared for the increase and has put in place a streamlined process to get people scheduled for the procedure faster.
Lori Smit, clinical operations director for endoscopy at Intermountain Health, said after people fill out an online form, they are contacted within a day or two to schedule the procedure. She said the system is “patient-centric” and will work with a patient’s schedule. People probably won’t be able to go to work right after the procedure because they’ve been sedated, but they should generally be able to go back to work the next day, Smit said.
Seven hospitals and 17 physicians are connected through the central planning program, making the procedure available to more Utah residents.
“It really gives patients options to choose from, and it’s really about the patient and their choice,” Smit said.
Intermountain began using the system in March last year and the first trials took place in May. The program allows patients to receive the procedure in an average of 35 days. Smit said there’s usually a three to six month wait, showing their program is very successful.
“Get it in, get it done — it’s just no big deal and it saves lives,” she said.